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  • Bentham Team

How to prepare for your college interview

When you fill out your applications, you will encounter this question: do you want to have an interview?  The interview is one more chance for you to make an impression on the admissions committee, so you should definitely check the yes box.


Once you’ve submitted the application, you will probably be contacted for an interview.  Highly competitive schools like Stanford are so overwhelmed with applications that they choose only a percentage of candidates to interview. They choose these applicants at random, so if you’re not contacted, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything.


If you are contacted, this is what you can expect, and how you should prepare.


What to expect


Your interviewer will probably be a volunteer alum who lives in your area and graduated in your intended major. You will probably meet in a cafe or other neutral ground like a park. 


The interviewer knows nothing about you


This interviewer will not have seen your file, so do not assume that the interviewer knows anything about you. Bring a portfolio with a resume, a copy of your transcript, maybe even samples of your work or something you have created. 


Prepare. Practice. But don’t Rehearse.


The interviewer wants to know if you’d come out of the gate running at their alma mater. This means that you’ve chosen to apply to this college very deliberately, not out of a desire for prestige but because this college offers the policies, programs, professors, labs, and other resources ideal for your pursuit of your dream. Prepare for this interview by doing a deep study of the college or university, and knowing exactly why you want to go there, referring to at least three highly particular aspects that are not location, reputation, or how happy everyone seemed on campus the day you visited.


Have various adults, and even friends, ask you interview questions until it’s second nature for you to answer pointedly and succinctly, with examples, and without digression or “uhs” and “ums”. This doesn’t mean you should try to memorize and rehearse specific answers. The interview should feel natural, a spontaneous conversation between you and the interviewer.


Practice making eye contact. If it’s a remote interview, practice over a remote connection like Zoom, looking into the camera instead of at the interviewer on screen.

Practice answering forthrightly, without lots of ums and “gee that’s a good question” responses.


“Tell me about yourself” 


Quite often this will be the interviewer’s first question. It is deceptively open-ended.  Surprisingly often students will answer this question by talking about their brothers and sisters, their town, their pets, the name of their high school, or the sport they play, when what they should do is consider the context - this is a college admissions interview! Tell the interviewer what your academic passion is, and how you have worked in high school towards mastery of this subject. Hopefully, you will not just talk about a high school class or teacher, but can also talk about your experience on a competitive academic team (Model UN, Fed Challenge, math olympiad) or through a self-initiated project (blog, novel, interning at a radio station, teaching yourself a second foreign language). You are here to talk about your dreams and accomplishments. So tell them about that.


Know the answer to one question cold - every question they ask may be a variation on this question


Prepare good questions for the interviewer Often these interviews are ostensibly informational opportunities for you to learn about the school, so you should come with questions prepared. While you are researching the school, prepare questions. If you apply to Brown, and learn that the school doesn’t require classes outside of your major, you might ask the interviewer what they think they gained and lost from this “open curriculum.”  It’s well known that the way to succeed in a job interview is to ask the interviewer lots of questions. Turning the tables helps you calm down, and helps you build a relationship with the interviewer. We all like to talk about ourselves.


Dress nice, but don’t overdress

You needn’t wear a suit or anything fancy, but you should present yourself well - wear a collar, and be sure that anything you wear looks neat and presentable, clean and unwrinkled. 


Arrive early

Plan to arrive 20 minutes early. That way, you can be sure you won’t be late. Surprisingly, some applicants worry they’ll somehow look bad if they arrive early. You don’t have to worry about looking too eager: it’s not a date.


Finally, write a thank you email!

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